Forbes.com featured an article with 10 Steps to conquer information over load. The article was written by Laura Shin. She points to the many sources of this over load, even the grocery store. ““In 1976, there were 9,000 products in the average grocery store, and now it’s ballooned to 40,000 products. And yet most of us can get almost all our shopping done in just 150 items, so you’re having to ignore tens of thousands of times every time you go shopping,” he says””. The “he” she is quoting is Daniel Levitin, McGill University psychology professor and author of The Organized Mind: Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload.
She notes that by one calculation we have created more information in the last ten years than I all of human history before that. The average American receives five times more information every day than they did in 1986.
Here are Levitin’s ten steps to getting control of it all:
- Do a brain dump
Follow the advice of productivity “guru” David Allen in his book Getting Things Done and get stuff out of your brain. As important information comes to you write it down immediately, this allows you to let go of that information in your mind. Allen then provides a serious of steps for how to organize and use that information.
- Follow the Two-Minute Rule
If a task can be done in two minutes or less get it done now. If it cannot be done in two minutes put it on a to-do list and do it when you have time.
- Clump together similar tasks
For example, return phone calls all at one time. Pay all the bills due at the same time. Complete one set of tasks before moving on to others. Resist distractions from this.
- Do not multitask
Research shows we do not perform well when multitasking. Focus on one task at a time. Eliminate distractions from that task.
- Limit email distractions.
Turn off audible signals that you have new email. Set aside certain times in your day to review and respond to email. If you need to turn email off the rest of the time.
- “Eat the frog” first thing in the morning.
Follow the advice of movie producer Jake Edwards and success expert Brian Tracy to “eat the frog” first thing in the day. That is, take on your most difficult or unpleasant task first thing in the morning, get it done and move on.
- Spend only as much time on decisions and tasks as they need.
Sometimes we devote more time to a decision or task then it really needs. It is better to assess how important the decision or task is and how easily it can be efficiently dealt with. For example Levitin says if you think you need to keep five year old bills and receipts just throw them in a box in case you need them, do not spend hours organizing something you’ll likely never need.
- Take breaks.
Taking a 15 minute break every couple of hours can make you more efficient and effective. Listening to music, taking a walk or even a short nap can recharge you and make you more effective.
- Daydream now and then.
Levitin says, “The brain operates in two oppositional modes: “one is when you’re directing the thoughts, and the other is when the thoughts take over and run themselves,” says Levitin. Directing mode is the one that allows us to get our work done, whether we’re an office worker, chef or tile layer, but our minds can’t stay in one gear all day long.
In daydreaming mode, says Levitin, “one thought melds into another and they’re not particularly related.” This daydreaming mode acts as a neural reset button and replenishes some of the glucose you use up in staying on a task.”
- Push against authority.
By this Levitin means to give workers in an organization as much autonomy as possible because people are happier and more productive if they have some autonomy.
This is a great list of ways to maintain focus, limit distractions and improve your effectiveness. Limiting information over load is about controlling how much information you are exposed to so as not to overwhelm yourself. I add these ideas as well:
- Limit internet use.
The internet is a great resource and you can learn a great deal from its content. You can also get mired in too much information. Turn off notifications from social media and other sources that will interrupt you and usually with information of little value. If you decide to “surf the web” set a time limit and avoid doing it throughout the day.
- Be selective about what you read.
With e-readers, internet content, magazines and books there is an endless source of information to read. The problem is that if you do not limit your reading you can be overwhelmed with information. You will not retain it, analyze it or make use of it.
The bottom line is that you must control how much information you read or listen to. Use what is truly useful to you or truly inspiring to you. Be aware of how well you are understanding and retaining what you read, see and hear. Our ability to take in and process information is limited. You must be discerning about it.
Learn how to manage your time to achieve more of what you want to do in my book, Effective Time Management. Get free lessons on how to use your time more effectively with my Effective Time Management Lessons.
Wishing you well,
Daniel R. Murphy
Educating people for building wealth, adapting to a changing future and personal development.